Japan eyes creation of Okinawa defense group within GSDF

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A vehicle of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s 15th Brigade is seen in Naha on April 29.

The Defense Ministry is considering establishing a group within the Ground Self-Defense Force to defend the Nansei island chain, comprising Okinawa prefecture and parts of southern Kyushu.

According to sources, the government is mulling a reorganization of the GSDF’s 15th Brigade based in Naha by fiscal 2027 to establish the Okinawa defense group.

The government intends to include the plan in the new defense program, which is expected to be approved by the Cabinet later this month.

The 15th Brigade is headquartered in Camp Naha and has about 2,000 personnel. Launched in 2010, it includes an infantry regiment an anti-aircraft artillery regiment and a reconnaissance unit.

The ministry plans to add another infantry regiment to the brigade and consolidate them into the new Okinawa defense group, which will have about 3000 members, according to government sources.

Camp Naha is expected to be used as the base for the defense group. No additional land will be acquired, the sources said.

GSDF operational units are largely divided into nine divisions and six brigades. The status of the defense group is expected to be between that of divisions and smaller brigades.

China’s increasingly hegemonic moves have raised concerns that the country could unify Taiwan by force, which has apparently prompted the Japanese Defense Ministry to strengthen the defense of the Nansei chain, which includes islands near Taiwan.

The GSDF established a camp on Yonaguni Island in March 2016 and another on Miyako Island in March 2019. A new camp is also scheduled to be completed on Ishigaki Island this fiscal year.

Coast observation and security units are deployed on these islands to defend the nation’s borders, but only about 700 personnel are currently stationed at Camp Miyakojima, which is larger than the Yonaguni camp.

If the Okinawa defense group is established, it will be possible to deploy GSDF personnel flexibly from Okinawa Island to remote islands in the area in the event of an emergency.

It will also be possible to promptly deploy the defense group in an emergency until the arrival of backup personnel from Honshu. Deterrence is also expected to improve.

The Okinawa defense group is likely to handle such operations as evacuations and combating so-called cognitive warfare — which involves the dissemination of false information to disrupt society. A system will be established for the group to gather and share information to mitigate such a threat.